Digging into the 2021 Dubai World Cup card

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March 26th, 2021

Even by the standards of the Dubai World Cup (G1), Saturday’s program at Meydan presents a handicapping challenge. The eight Thoroughbred races feature well-matched fields, with most of the favorites worthy if not tower-over-them types.

As a result, there’s a higher than average probability of logical contenders producing healthy win payouts. And a few giant longshots can sneak into the frame to boost the exotics.

Race 2 - Godolphin Mile

Historically a haven for the home team, the Godolphin Mile has gone to the locals in 15 of 20 runnings. #8 Midnight Sands (5-2) confirmed himself the head of the division in the Burj Nahaar (G3), but the rub is that only two winners of that Super Saturday prep have gone on to win here. And the other locals are a mixed bag. Upwardly mobile #14 Tuz (5-1) is the likeliest to improve from his better-than-appears third in the Burj Nahaar, but the inexperienced four-year-old could shine most at the 2022 Carnival.

Thus in the circumstances, this running strikes me as more open to the shippers. #5 Dieu de Vin (12-1) has the liability of post 15, but I loved him early on the 2020 Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. The Cattleya Sho winner was runner-up to the top-class Café Pharoah in last summer’s Unicorn (G3), and he could be rounding back to his best. When a closing fourth in the Jan. 24 Tokai (G2) at Chukyo, he posted a field-best final three furlongs in :36.7. Reverting to a one-turn mile is just what he wants. And he gets Frankie Dettori.

#9 Parsimony (30-1) is twice the odds of his eminently logical fellow Americans, Snapper Sinclair and Avant Garde, but he has a case too. Trained by Doug O’Neill, who won this race in 2007 with Spring at Last, Parsimony is himself a winner over this track in last Carnival’s Curlin H. Although inconsistent, he is capable of stepping up on his day, and assistant Leandro Mora says he’s better this time around.

Race 3 – Dubai Gold Cup

This about two-mile test could be one of the more formful on the day. #8 Spanish Mission (6-1) and #7 Secret Advisor (2-1) ought to move forward from their second and third, respectively, in the rich Red Sea Turf H. on Saudi Cup Day. Doncaster Cup (G2) hero Spanish Mission is proven at, and beyond, the distance, and has long been regarded as a Melbourne Cup (G1) candidate. Godolphin’s Secret Advisor figures to handle the extra furlong and sports a 2-for-2 record on this course.

As the fourth in the Red Sea Turf, Ed Dunlop’s globetrotter #5 Red Verdon (10-1) is qualified to factor again, if more underneath. The wild stab longshot is #6 Royal Marine (15-1). Bitterly disappointing since his career high in the 2018 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1), he has mystified trainer Saeed bin Suroor by training like a champion in the morning and wilting on raceday. The dramatic stretch-out to the staying ranks could be another sign of desperation, but it’s worth noting that bin Suroor just shocked the Red Sea Turf with another unlikely sort, and that Oisin Murphy reunites with Royal Marine for the first time since his juvenile days. Murphy is 2-for-2 aboard Royal Marine, who has never won for another jockey.

Race 4 – Al Quoz Sprint

If #8 Space Blues (5-2) can engage his turbo in time over a sharper trip than customary, he’d give Appleby his third straight Al Quoz. That’s the caveat about the class of the field who’s riding a five-race winning streak.

Six-furlong specialist #3 Khaadem (15-1) appeals as the most persuasive upset candidate. Long pointed for this race by Charlie Hills, the 2019 Stewards’ Cup hero brings strong form at the trip through his fourths in last summer’s Diamond Jubilee (G1) and July Cup (G1). Khaadem has a right to be hitting his peak as a five-year-old, and the son of Dark Angel hails from a fine sprinting family.

Since four of the last five Al Quoz winners ran in the final prep on Super Saturday, horses coming out of the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint (G3) are worth a closer look. That angle could apply particularly well for the beaten favorite that day, #7 Royal Crusade (20-1). Space Blues’ stablemate from the Appleby yard, Royal Crusade was knocking off the cobwebs since his victory in last July’s Prix du Ris-Orangis (G3), where he beat future British Champions Sprint (G1) victor Glen Shiel. The Shamardal blueblood brings untapped potential.

The other trend of note is the Americans’ close calls in this race in recent years. #2 Extravagant Kid (10-1) might be likelier to prolong that stat as a “nearly horse himself,” but the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) fourth has the international form in the book. Cowan’s fast-finishing second to Golden Pal in the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) gives him claims here, but it’s a tall task for a sophomore versus elders at this stage of the season. That said, I’d be thrilled for connections to be rewarded for their willingness to swing for this fence.

Race 5 – UAE Derby

A reasonable case can be made for most of the field in this Kentucky Derby (G1) points race, so the only way I could sift them was by sticking to my judgments about their races. My instinct is to downgrade the Al Bastakiya, partly due to its less informative role of late, and partly with this year’s field lacking relative depth. My other two fixed ideas are that the Saudi Derby form is ripe for overturning back at Meydan, and that the best Japanese horse was not in Riyadh.

If #14 Soft Whisper (12-1) was too short a price taking on boys in the Saudi Derby, her morning line here looks like an overreaction to her tiring fifth. Trained by eight-time UAE Derby (G2) winner bin Suroor, the Godolphin homebred looked like a budding star in the UAE 1000 Guineas before getting sapped on the deeper King Abdulaziz surface. The glib Meydan is much more her thing. Soft Whisper made a brilliant move in the Guineas to defeat the talented Mnasek, the next-out UAE Oaks (G3) romper, and pedigree ensures she’ll stay the trip.

Japan Road competitor #12 Takeru Pegasus (10-1) is on a path reminiscent of 2016 UAE Derby victor Lani, but he’s a different type with speed and professionalism. An excellent second in the Cattleya S., where he left the rest upwards of 10 lengths back, he was a quietly ridden fourth in the Hyacinth, and likely to show a lot more with Ryan Moore.

The main reason I overlooked Pink Kamehameha in Saudi was that his stablemate #4 France Go de Ina (6-1) appeared the first string before he was ruled out by fever. Now that Hideyuki Mori’s Triple Crown nominee is on the scene, I’ll prefer him to take back the barn bragging rights. France Go de Ina’s tactical speed should serve him well, and as a son of Will Take Charge, he will only improve from his juvenile record.

The Soft Whisper logic also applies to her Godolphin colleague, Appleby’s Triple Crown nominee #10 Rebel’s Romance (15-1), who was unbeaten until his fourth in the Saudi Derby. He too was flattered in absentia at Meydan when the progressive Mouheeb came back to land the UAE 2000 Guineas (G3). The difference is that Rebel’s Romance might not be as forward as Soft Whisper at this stage; Appleby keeps saying that he will be better next year.

Race 6 – Dubai Golden Shaheen

According to the historical pattern, the Golden Shaheen winner is much likelier to be an American, with 12 of the 15 editions on dirt going to a U.S. shipper. Four meet that threshold on Saturday, and #12 Wildman Jack (10-1) might be the one to fit the parameters best. O’Neill has finished second twice in this race, from only four starters; Wildman Jack ran off the screen here last Carnival when setting a course record in the Nad al Sheba Turf Sprint; the maturing son of Goldencents crushed the Palos Verdes (G3) to prove his dirt aptitude in a race that has produced four Shaheen winners; and he could work out a favorable stalking trip in a sprint loaded with speed.

The hesitation about #13 Yaupon (5-1) is that he still lacks experience for a race on this stage, which could have been his undoing in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). Also, no horse since Caller One (2001-02) has won this without the benefit of a recent prep. Yet his natural talent makes him tough to leave out, since it would be no surprise if Yaupon gets a flyer out of the gate and has the race to himself.

With my general distrust of the form from Saudi carrying over, I’m inclined to upgrade a former Steve Asmussen trainee, #11 Switzerland (15-1), who was fourth to Japan’s Copano Kicking and Matera Sky in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint. In his prior start, the multiple U.S. Grade 3 veteran captured the Dubawi (G3) over this track and trip. Switzerland appears rejuvenated in the care of Satish Seemar, like another son of Speightstown – Reynaldothewizard.

Of the Japanese quartet, #15 Red le Zele (15-1) is of special interest. The son of Lord Kanaloa comes off a fourth in the February (G1) over a metric mile. The prospect of fierce speed on tap could militate against Matera Sky, but set it up well for Red le Zele on the cutback. In his last try at this trip, he just missed to Justin while clocking a considerably faster final sectional.

Race 7 – Dubai Turf

In the duel of Lords, I prefer #10 Lord North (3-1) who employs an angle known to work in this race: making his seasonal reappearance while reverting in trip. As the type to run well fresh, and with top-notch international form, the John Gosden trainee promises to perform in the neighborhood of his lofty rating. #9 Lord Glitters (7-2) has to buck an historical trend against Jebel Hatta (G1) winners doubling up on World Cup night. In contrast, the promising #1 Al Suhail (4-1) has the more positive trend of Jebel Hatta losers gaining revenge in this race, and the Appleby pupil will be stronger second off the layoff.  

#3 Epic Hero (50-1) has perhaps the best chance of crashing a chalky finish. A Godolphin castoff trained by Simon Crisford, the Siyouni gelding has won or placed in three of four starts at Meydan, and his comeback sixth in the Zabeel Mile (G2) smacks of a perfect pipe-opener. Epic Hero’s European form last season also ties in, since he edged Lord Glitters when second in the Strensall (G3) at York in similar conditions. In a subsequent third at Newmarket, he wasn’t far off Carnival star Zakouski.  

Race 8 – Dubai Sheema Classic

Japanese star #9 Chrono Genesis (5-2) rates a slight edge in case Aidan O’Brien’s #8 Mogul (7-2) is not quite primed off the bench. Just one Ballydoyle charge has won the Sheema, St Nicholas Abbey (2013), while several have failed to run up to their best. On the other hand, Mogul is O’Brien’s one and only runner on World Cup night, and it’s possible he’s stripping fitter than imagined.

Mishriff has the opposite question, in that he exits a potentially gut-busting Saudi Cup over Charlatan. Now he has to come back and put up a similar effort in his first try at 1 1/2 miles. His class is never in doubt, but Mishriff could be an underlay in the circumstances. Channel Maker is up against it trying to erase the 0-for-18 record of Americans in this spot, and he too looks like a minor award at best.

For price potential, #5 Walton Street (8-1) enters in the form of his life off back-to-back course records, following the same Dubai City of Gold (G2) itinerary as Appleby’s past two Sheema winners, Hawkbill (2018) and Old Persian (2-19).

The bomb candidate is #3 Simsir (60-1) for Fawzi Nass. Another with course form, albeit last Carnival, the Aga Khan-bred plundered the Bahrain International Trophy over a solid field. It’s a measure of his regard that Nass pitched him into the Saudi Cup, where unlike Mishriff, he did no running at all loathing the dirt. Simsir has a stealthy vibe back on turf, if at a longer trip, but he could cope being a “nephew” of Sinndar.

Race 9 – Dubai World Cup

As a card-carrying fan of #10 Mystic Guide (5-2) since his maiden romp at Fair Grounds, I’ve been waiting for him to put it all together and am not about to jump ship now. Yet I have to admit that he doesn’t have the same ironclad profile as most of the American heroes in the World Cup, or several of the Godolphins either.

Indeed, this is one of the more open-looking renewals in its 25-year history, making for the greater possibility of chaos. The lovable Jesus’ Team and Sleepy Eyes Todd are entitled to be in the mix, and Title Ready can outperform expectations, given Dallas Stewart’s penchant for presenting his horses on the big day. Still, I can’t escape the idea that they’re more place chances.

#9 Military Law (6-1) was one of those finding Riyadh less hospitable than Meydan when sixth in the Saudi Cup. His efforts on this track stamp him as an improving son of Dubawi just nearing his peak. Runner-up to Benbatl and again to Matterhorn in the final two preps last Carnival, Military Law returned triumphant in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 (G2) that should have been shorter than ideal. Back at perhaps his best distance, and well drawn in post 5, Military Law has a shot to give Musabbah al Mheiri his first World Cup.

I hadn’t been as bullish on #3 Chuwa Wizard (15-1) going into the Saudi Cup, since the one-turn nine furlongs didn’t figure to play to his strengths. The World Cup is a different story, and the Japanese champion dirt horse should be happier on the stretch-out. Ultra-consistent prior to his Saudi ninth, Chuwa Wizard was reportedly distracted by the novelty of a stalls handler. That’s no longer a surprise to him. If not flashing the star quality of compatriots Chrysoberyl or Café Pharoah, Chuwa Wizard did beat them both in his last Japanese outing, and a repeat of that could be good enough here.

Thoughts on more World Cup contenders can be found in the preview.

Good luck and enjoy the World Cup!